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Omikron: The Nomad Soul

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:

GAME DEVELOPER:Quantic Dream

GAME PUBLISHER:EIDOS Interactive

Copyright 1999, EIDOS Interactive

Omikron: The Nomad Soul is a very ambitious 3D cyberpunk action adventure that should be considered a true masterpiece that renews the market’s interest in the adventure genre. It’s got an outstanding plot, a truly epic scope, a unique premise, amazing freedom of movement more akin to RPGs than adventure game, and many optional subquests and branching stories to discover. And it pulls it all off with a wonderful 3D engine that gives birth to a remarkably lifelike, heavily-populated metropolis that looks like something out of Blade Runner– without needing the latest 3D card or an Athlon to pull it off. Unfortunately, the game’s mass-market appeal is dulled by frustratingly difficult arcade sequences and some obscure or insufficient clues that make you feel lost in Omikron‘s virtually limitless freedom. Which is a shame, because Omikron is a thoroughly remarkable adventure that deserves to be called “revolutionary” and played by every fan of the genre.

The French developer Quantic Dream set out to make something different, and it shows. You start out the game as a bodyless soul who has been called to Omikron, Earth’s parallel universe, to help them sort out some trouble. In Omikron, your soul starts out in the body of Kay’l, the police officer who came to you for help – although you occupy his body a bit too soon to know what exactly you need help with. After getting your life saved from a menacing demon by a fellow policeman, you begin the game proper by travelling to Kay’l's apartment to find your first clues.

This engrossing premise is developed into an even better story as the game progresses, full of interesting twists and turns. There are many inventory-based puzzles that are logical and well thought out, and finding clues in order to solve the mystery is a lot of fun. You will run into dozens of interesting characters, all of whom have a lot of things to say beyond the stock response of “hi, how are you.” Many characters as well as Kay’l himself (who addresses you, the player who controls his actions, in second person) also offer a lot of help, but not so much that it takes away from the gameplay. Similar to the world in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you soon find that the people in Omikron are chemically and psychologically guided through life, worship a certain “Supreme Being.” It is when you find out how to move your soul Kay’l to the other characters to control their actions that the game gets very interesting.

The keyboard can control most of your actions. Despite its full-blown 3D world, Omikron plays a lot like some of the old adventure games such as Alone in The Dark. You can interact with almost anything in this fully 3D world, and everything moves and works fluidly. What makes Omikron an amazing achievement is the fact that its world is dynamic. Forget the static screens of most adventure games and cardboard characters who talk to you based on the written script regardless of how you treat them. Everything you do in Omikron has repercussions, especially how you speak to the other characters in the game. If you piss someone off, you will be denied important information. The level of interactivity along with the non-linear storyline make Omikron not only addictive, but replayable to boot. That is a claim that that very few adventure games can make.

Unfortunately for all its strengths, Omikron does have some weaknesses that detract from the fun. Chief among these is the amount of fighting in the game, and the interface used to control it. Omikron has two types of fighting: armed and unarmed. The armed fighting puts you into first-person mode, hunting down the baddies with your futuristic weapons. The unarmed, however, is similar to 3D fighting games like SEGA’s numerous arcade games. You attack mainly with the keyboard, setting up combinations you learn throughout the game. Adventure game fans with poor reflexes (like me) will find these sequences very frustrating, as they require tremendous skill at button mashing. Some of these fighting also seem out of place – it feels as if the designers drop them in periodically just so they can market the game as an action/adventure hybrid instead of a pure adventure game. This lack of trust in the appeal of traditional adventure is disappointing, but perhaps justifiable given the genre’s comatose condition lately. (It is worth noting that Omikron wasn’t commercially successful even with all the PR on action elements, thus making it a real underdog). Fortunately, you can train at Kay’l's apartment as often as you want.

The game also inherits some annoying quirks from console games, such as the fact that you can only save at certain points in the game (marked by spinning rings). After you discover how to ‘inhabit’ different bodies, though, this becomes a lot less annoying because you will just reincarnate in the body of the person who is closest to you when you die.

With an excellent plot, an innovative gameplay that combines the best of arcade and adventure genres (although a bit too much of the former), and very high play value (it took me almost 60 hours to beat the game, without following all the subplots – the 3 CDs are truly packed), Omikron: The Nomad Soul is one of the most original, atmospheric, and addictive adventure games in recent memory. If you enjoy innovative games such as BioForge or Blade Runner, chances are you will also enjoy this overlooked classic. As an added bonus, the game showcases a celebrity appearance by David Bowie and some original music by him that perfectly suits the atmosphere. Two thumbs up, way up!



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